Eddystone Lighthouse

Eddystone Lighthouse is on the treacherous Eddystone Rocks, 9 statute miles (14 km) south west of Rame Head, United Kingdom. While Rame Head is in Cornwall, the rocks are in Devon and composed of Precambrian Gneiss.

The current structure is the fourth to be built on the site. The first and second were destroyed. The third, also known as Smeaton's Tower, is the best known because of its influence on lighthouse design and its importance in the development of concrete for building. Its upper portions have been re-erected in Plymouth as a monument.

Winstanley's lighthouse

The first lighthouse on Eddystone Rocks was an octagonal wooden structure built by Henry Winstanley. Construction started in 1696 and the light was lit on 14 November 1698. During construction, a French privateer took Winstanley prisoner, causing Louis XIV to order his release with the words "France is at war with England, not with humanity".

The lighthouse survived its first winter but was in need of repair, and was subsequently changed to a dodecagonal (12 sided) stone clad exterior on a timber framed construction with an Octagonal top section as can be clearly seen in the later drawings or paintings, one of which is to the left. This gives rise to the claims that there have been five lighthouses on Eddystone Rock. Winstanley's tower lasted until the Great Storm of 1703 erased almost all trace on 27 November. Winstanley was on the lighthouse, completing additions to the structure. No trace was found of him.

The cost of construction and five years' maintenance totalled £7,814 7s.6d, during which time dues totalling £4,721 19s.3d had been collected at one penny per ton from passing vessels.

Rudyard's lighthouse

Following the destruction of the first lighthouse, a Captain Lovett acquired the lease of the rock, and by Act of Parliament was allowed to charge passing ships a toll of one penny per ton. He commissioned John Rudyard (or Rudyerd) to design the new lighthouse, built as a conical wooden structure around a core of brick and concrete. A temporary light was first shown from it in 1708 and the work was completed in 1709. This proved more durable, surviving nearly fifty years.

On the night of 2 December 1755, the top of the lantern caught fire, probably through a spark from one of the candles used to illuminate the light. The three keepers threw water upwards from a bucket but were driven onto the rock as the tower burnt down and were rescued by boat. Henry Hall, who was 84 or 94 at the time, died from lead poisoning because of the molten lead from the lantern roof he had ingested fighting the fire. A report on this case of lead poisoning was submitted to the Royal Society by the physician Dr. Edmund Spry, and the piece of lead is now in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland.

Smeaton's lighthouse

50°21′52.09″N 4°8′31.67″W / 50.3644694°N 4.1421306°W / 50.3644694; -4.1421306

The third lighthouse marked a major step forward in the design of such structures.

Recommended by the Royal Society, civil engineer John Smeaton modelled the shape on an oak tree, built of granite blocks. He pioneered 'hydraulic lime', a concrete that will set under water, and developed a technique of securing the granite blocks using dovetail joints and marble dowels. Construction started in 1756 at Millbay and the light was first lit on 16 October 1759.

Smeaton's lighthouse was 59 feet (18 m) high and had a diameter at the base of 26 feet (8 m) and at the top of 17 feet (5 m). It remained in use until 1877 when erosion to the rocks under the lighthouse caused it to shake from side to side whenever large waves hit. Smeaton's lighthouse was rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe, in Plymouth, as a memorial. William Tregarthen Douglass supervised the dismantling and removal of Smeaton's Tower.

The re-erected tower on the hoe is now a tourist attraction.

The foundations and stub of the tower remain, close to the new and more solid foundations of the current lighthouse - the foundations proved too strong to be dismantled so the Victorians left them where they stood.

Douglass's lighthouse

The current, fourth, lighthouse was designed by James Douglass, using Robert Stevenson's developments of Smeaton's techniques. The light was lit in 1882 and is still in use. It is operated by Trinity House. It was automated in 1982, the first Trinity House 'Rock' (or offshore) lighthouse to be converted. The tower has been changed by construction of a helipad above the lantern, to allow maintenance crews access.

The tower is 49 metres (161 ft) high, and its white light flashes twice every 10 seconds. The light is visible to 22 nautical miles (41 km), and is supplemented by a fog signal of 3 blasts every 60 seconds.

The last Keeper before automation was Warren Seagrave.

References in literature and popular song
  • The lighthouse inspired a sea shanty, frequently recorded, that begins "My father was the keeper of the Eddystone light //And he slept with a mermaid one fine night//Out of this union there came three//A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me!" and has been used as a metaphor for stability.
  • The destruction of the first lighthouse is referenced in the final act of George Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem.
  • Eddystone Lighthouse is mentioned in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: "See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone Lighthouse".
  • It is also mentioned in C.S. Forester's "A Ship of the Line", Hornblower's adventures in Spain (1938).
  • A novel based on the building of Smeaton's lighthouse, containing many details of the construction, was published in 2005.
  • The band Edison Lighthouse ("Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes")) is named after the lighthouse.
  • The Sutton High School, in Plymouth, had four houses, and each house was named after the Eddystone lighthouses: Winstanley, Rudyard, Smeaton, and Douglas.
  • Clouds over Hoe

  • Smeaton`s Tower

  • Tinside Pool, Plymouth Sound

  • Sunlight through Fresnel lens

References in music and television
  • The lighthouse is celebrated in the opening and closing movements of Ron Goodwin's Drake 400 Suite. The movement's main theme was directly inspired by the lighthouse's unique light characteristic.
  • The Adventures of Portland Bill, a British children's animation, features a character called Eddy Stone.
  • The history of the Eddystone lighthouse is summarised in an episode of the BBC TV series "Coast" with Neil Oliver. The episode features photo-realistic animations of the lighthouses.
  • Law & Order: SVU, In the episode "Swing", Stabler's daughter was singing the poem while in the shower in a strangers' house.


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